Senior managers at Lifeways explain how the business has been able to induct 46% more support workers and save time and money on training during the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Jane Manton, group head of Learning, Development & Specialist Support, and Rachael Mannion, learning design manager.
Every single month, Lifeways trains several hundred new Support Workers, as well as other colleagues.
And as the UK’s largest team of support professionals – 11,000 in total, most working in 1,500 services supporting almost 5,000 people with diverse and complex needs – proper training is absolutely essential.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our training and inductions process had to change – and fast. Due to social distancing requirements, the numbers of bookable venues where we could safely hold classroom-style training simply weren’t suitable, or were cancelled altogether.
So, following guidance from regulators and commissioners, almost all face-to-face learning of new starters had to stop, right away.
What pre-pandemic training looked like
Before COVID-19, the process of training a new Support Worker went like this: after being offered a position, the Support Worker received an initial one-hour online learning session about Lifeways and their role expectations on MyLifeways Learning, our learning management system.
This initial training can be done on any smartphone, computer or device that connects to the internet. While the Support Worker completes this, Lifeways carried out their DBS check, and other pre-employment checks.
Then, for a week, the Support Worker would travel daily to a classroom booked in their area to receive face-to-face group training by an instructor. After a few more day’s additional training, where relevant, Support Workers started their job at the service, working with people we support – with ongoing opportunities to complete more role-relevant training online.
What training looks like now
After receiving the job offer, the Support Worker receives the same one-hour initial online learning session about Lifeways and their role expectations on MyLifeways Learning.
Then, once employment checks are completed, the Support Worker goes back on MyLifeways Learning to receive fully-remote learning. Alongside this, every Support Worker is assigned their own trainer, who works with them remotely, in a time that suits them best. As they near the end of their learning, their trainer sets up an end-point call, where the Support Worker works through scenarios, and is asked about what they’ve learned.
After completing any additional training that may be required, also done online on MyLifeways Learning, the Support Worker is ready to start in the service.
Currently, only training that can’t be carried out online – such as physical intervention training – is still conducted face-to-face in a classroom.
The impact of the changes
Since March, after moving training online, we’ve seen a huge improvement in all areas. One area of improvement is how much faster we’re able to get Support Workers starting at our services.
Some Support Workers have even been able to finish their inductions in less than two weeks after getting the job – which one management colleague, used to waiting weeks for new joiners to start, described as ‘just amazing!’
Another improvement is the number of people we’ve been able to induct – at a time their roles are more critical than ever. Since the pandemic began, and the shift to online learning, we’ve been able to induct 46% more Support Workers compared to the previous period in 2019.
We’ve also massively cut down the time and money spent on training new Support Workers. Before the pandemic, we used to spend tens of thousands of pounds every year on booking classroom venues and hotels for trainers.
And because of the greater efficiency of online training, we’ve been able to help Service Managers, who run our 1,500 services across the UK, reduce usage of agency staff – a cutback which is essential to provide continuity of support.
Moving almost all learning online has also had huge benefits for Support Workers.
Because each Support Worker gets one-to-one supervision, we’re able to offer far more focused, personalised training.
And as with our trainers, they no longer have to travel to classroom venues, and can complete training on any device, any time, and anywhere.
We encourage new starters only to complete their training during times that are best for them – so as a result we’ve even seen new Support Workers log on to MyLifeways Learning at 3 in the morning!
What’s most encouraging is hearing from what new starters say about online learning.
“I feel very supported and like the fact that if I forget something, I can go back and review,” one Support Worker told us.
Another Support Worker said: “I was able to spend an uninterrupted 2 days reading and working through the different topics, and was really impressed by the amount I had learned.”
What’s perhaps best of all is that we haven’t seen any drop in the quality of support given from new starters who joined during the pandemic. Through our trainers, we’ve maintained bespoke, high-quality inductions.
So as the pandemic hopefully begins to fade in 2021, what’s next? We’ve got plenty of plans to upgrade our current Support Worker induction.
This will include more dedicated roles within the training team, and upskilling Service Managers to complete competency assessments, such as the use of hoists, within each service. We’re also planning to create more topic-specific training videos and our in-house experts.
Since moving to online learning, we’ve been able to induct far more Support Workers in a time where their roles are more important than ever. We’re looking forward to supporting even more people than ever – and putting them at the heart of everything we do.